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CJ Hicks denied charter school, but IB application on track
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Despite a bump in the road when its charter school application was denied earlier this year, CJ Hicks Elementary is on track towards becoming the county’s first International Baccalaureate school.

Principal Sherrod Willaford said, “Although the charter petition was denied, it did not hinder our journey.” 

CJ Hicks Elementary is in the second year of a three-year application process to become an authorized IB Primary Years Programme school. The elementary level IB program is a rigorous approach to learning based on a method of inquiry and discussion, explained Willaford.  

Rockdale County Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Rich Autry said the school system presented its petition before the Georgia Department of Education’s charter school body in December 2010 and was notified in May that they were denied. 

Autry said some of the reason for that may have been because charter school would still have been under the RCPS Board of Education’s authority.

“They did talk about a lot to us in the interview about governance and the fact they wanted to see an autonomous governing body,” said Autry. “We did not include that in the petition. After much deliberation we still agreed we wanted the charter school to function within the school board authority.”

Willaford said the school wanted to remain under the RCPS school board authority. To have the school become an independent body meant Human Resources and Finance decisions would have to be undertaken by the charter school’s board instead of using RCPS’s HR and Finance departments, he said.

Being a charter school would have brought opportunities to apply for special grants and startup funds to help pay for teacher training for the IB program. However, even without charter school grant funds, CJ Hicks was able to fund this year’s training with the funds it received for being a Title I distinguished school — about $10,000. 

About 85 percent of the teachers have been trained at a Level I for the IB approach, and the school aims to train the remaining teachers this year, many of who are newer to the school. Faculty are currently building the “program of inquiry” using common core standards that the state is rapidly moving towards.

A consultant provided by the IB Programme will visit the school in March 2012 to give feedback on the school’s progress. The 2012-2013 school year will be the first full year rolling out the IB approach, as required in the application process. Willaford said he hopes to see the school authorized sometime in the 2012-2013 year. 

Currently, only a few elementary schools in the area have the IB Programme disntiction including Social Circle Elementary, Atherton in DeKalb County, and the Fernbank Elementary School in DeKalb.